MMAJunkie.com currently has a column up by their medical columnist Dr. Johnny Benjamin regarding a reader's question about whether or not Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos looks like she takes performance-enhancing drugs. Benjamin scoffs at the question and goes on about how its disappointing that fans see their favorite fighter lose and assume their opponent is on steroids. One of the topics within the column is in regards to blood testing in MMA and whether or not it should actually happen. Many fans would love to see this happen as does Dr. Benjamin, but the reality is that blood testing is far from something that will occur in MMA in the near future.
Benjamin's answer reminded me of some questions I had dwelled over in the past when previously researching positive steroid tests from some MMA athletes. Most notably, I was trying to research whether or not blood testing was much more accurate than urine testing, and I found that in most cases -- urine testing may actually be better due to the sample sizes and researched quantities of steroids in urine. Blood testing has some huge advantages such as having the potential to allow for testing HGH and erythropoietin "EPO" (blood doping for endurance). So, why isn't it a principal element of an athletic commission's defense in combating fighters who cheat?
The major problem for blood testing is its cost. It has been a much discussed topic when it comes to testing athletes in the sport of mixed martial arts, and athletic commissions are well-known to be under-funded state institutions that don't make a whole hell of a lot of money from sanctioning MMA and boxing events.
So, how much to tests cost? NSAC director Keith Kizer stated that testing in Nevada costs around $160 per test. These are the types of tests that actually test for anabolic steroids, and regular drug tests that test for narcotics are normally half the cost. Kizer also mentioned that they use $6.50 "instant" tests for narcotics at events that help keep costs down when it comes to testing for recreational drugs.
The NSAC doesn't test every fighter before events because the costs incurred would be very high, but the CSAC does, in fact, test every fighter before events. Obviously, costs of drug testing for both commissions is rather high, but those events do bring in sales revenue to the state that far exceeds their actual budget.
Blood tests, on the other hand, can grab nearly $200 and up per test, and even more expensive -- hair testing sometimes can cost as much as $950 a test. There are some other costs that would have to be incurred that many people that are in favor of their use haven't thought about however. Whenever an athlete is tested, someone who is trained to take blood would be required (i.e. phlebotomist). To save some explanation, the April 1999 issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise had some very solid reasoning behind NOT using blood testing, but many of those reasons are now scientifically void as technology has began to catch up.
Urine testing is advancing rapidly, and it could end up becoming a test that is not only cheap to administer, but it'll catch anybody using even the most advanced drugs on the market. HGH has some experimental blood testing that MLB has been talking about using in the future, and while many smaller sports like MMA would likely be out of the conversation due to cost... there are urine tests on the horizon that may work. The Nanotrap test is an urine-based test in development for detecting HGH:
"A team of scientists from the USA and Italy say they have developed a urine test that detects human growth hormone... The researchers developed a particle about one-tenth the size of a red blood cell that attracts, traps and protects HGH molecules... The particles surround nearly 100% of the HGH molecules and act as an amplifier, so available testing equipment can detect the synthetic hormone... the test can detect HGH two weeks after an athlete has last used it. Current blood screening for HGH, set to be used again at the Beijing Olympics, can identify HGH 24-48 hours after an athlete's last use. Ceres has licensed three patents from George Mason in what it calls 'Nanotrap' technology. The next step is getting the WADA and pro leagues to approve the test's use..."
Not only does it detect HGH two weeks after the last use, but it outperforms its counterpart. Check out this website for some of the other new techniques rising from development labs. There is also a technique known as hydropyrolysis that produces much cleaner samples than what we see today in steroid testing, and those could provide commissions with much more accurate readings as well as a less degraded sample, catching athletes on their down cycle.
Blood testing doesn't need to be sought out by the athletic commissions that sanction MMA or boxing. It's a well-known fact that commissions don't receive the funding from state governments that they need in order to administer such widespread blood testing. Major sports have revenues and possibly federal dollars at their disposal, but MMA isn't that type of sport just yet. With technological advances, random drug testing, and stiff penalties, athletic commissions can put the hurt on fighters who decide to take steroids at a cost that isn't going to break their budget.